“Modest morality or naïve normativity? The functions of prosocial behavior in human children and nonhuman primates”
Naïve normativity can be understood as sensitivity to the way we do things around here, or to the appropriateness of different kinds of actions. Children show this sort of naïve normativity at an early age, and there is evidence that other primate species demonstrate it as well. While naïve normativity in children is often taken to be evidence of moral development, I argue it could instead be understood as permitting three interrelated abilities important to cultural development. First, sensitivity to normativity undergirds the ability to identify appropriate models to learn from, which (contrary to the theory of natural pedagogy) is a key part of children’s early learning. Second, sensitivity to normativity can lead individuals to seek explanations for norm violations, which in turn can lead to the development of mindreading skills (contrary to familiar claims that the evolutionary function of our mindreading ability is for making better predictions). Third, sensitivity to normativity is identified as the core of a pluralistic understanding of communication. All three abilities further serve to promote cultural cohesion and development.